Amman: President Bashar al-Assad ended Syria`s state of emergency, in effect for nearly 50 years, on Thursday in an attempt to defuse mass protests against his authoritarian rule that have gripped Syria for over a month.
His announcement, endorsing a law passed by the government this week, came ahead of what activists described as "Great Friday" protests in several Syrian cities when more people are expected to take to the streets after Muslim Friday prayers.
Thousands of Syrians, inspired by uprisings sweeping the Arab world, have demonstrated to demand greater freedom in their policed-controlled country, presenting Assad with the most serious and sustained challenge to his 11-year rule.
"We are determined on totally peaceful protests... we rejoice at the downfall of the state of emergency. It was not lifted, it was toppled... With the help of God, we will embark on freedom," a comment on a Facebook page run by activists said.
The abolition of emergency rule, used since Assad`s Baath Party seized power in 1963 to justify arbitrary arrests and detention and a ban on all opposition, is symbolic since other laws still give entrenched security forces wide powers.
Leading opposition figure Haitham al-Maleh said the move was meaningless without an independent judiciary and curbs on the powers of the security forces.
"The state has a multitude of tools of repression at its disposal that have to be dismantled for repression to end," Maleh said.
Rights activist Ammar Qurabi welcomed the move but told Reuters other measures must follow, such as the release of prisoners detained in the unrest and a retrial in civil courts for all those convicted by the state security court.
State TV said Assad also endorsed legislation that regulates protests and dissolves a state security court which lawyers said violated the rule of law and the right to a fair trial.
Other demands include freeing thousands of political prisoners, many of whom are held without trial, and the removal of clause 8 in the constitution which enshrines the Baath Party as the leader of state and society.
Assad`s conciliatory move followed a familiar pattern since the unrest began a month ago: pledges of reform are made a day before Friday when demonstrations have been the strongest, and are usually followed by an intense crackdown.